The Terra Cotta Army: China’s First Emperor and the Birth of a Nation
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Weaving together history and a first-hand account of his experiences in China, John Man tells the fascinating story of how and why these astonishing figures were created in the third century BC, and how they have become a symbol of China’s history, culture, and society.
have derived from the tranceinducing ‘magic mushroom’ potions taken by Siberian shamans and ancient Indian mystics), the purpose being to generate a new self that was immortal though still physical. Adepts took elixirs during life to prevent decay after death. Indeed, arsenic has precisely this effect, presumably because it poisons not only the victim but also the bacteria that cause decay. Death thus becomes a doorway to immortality. The corpse of the successful adept would remain incorruptible,
afterlife surrounded by 200 cemeteries containing 10,000 graves of Han nobles. His has been turned into a wonder, a suitable memorial to an emperor who presided over a time of peace and prosperity. ‘Everyone was well-off,’ wrote the historian Ban Gu 200 years later, ‘all the granaries and barns bursting with grain, government repositories teeming with money.’ Opened in 2006 after 16 years of work, the tomb beneath its 31-metre mound is an air-conditioned glory of light and space in which you walk
Terra Cotta Army. A few paces south or east and they would have missed it entirely. Even so, their find might still have escaped wider notice if their boss, the head of the agricultural cadre, had not decided to check on all the work his team had been doing. He saw the bits and pieces of what looked like the pottery equivalent of a massacre, and decided someone had better be told. The Yang brothers, who had been so determined to ignore the apparitions from the world of the dead, were about to
could not know for sure they were Qin.’ Zhao, the guardian of old things, had found himself embroiled in this madness. Soon after Mao launched the Cultural Revolution in the summer of 1966, Zhao was summoned to one of those meetings at which crowds of callow revolutionaries threw insults at the victims, forcing them to ‘purify’ themselves by self-criticism. ‘They knew I was involved with old things which had something to do with an emperor,’ Zhao said, ‘so they accused me of encouraging
retinue praise his brilliance, begging to inscribe this stone,’ concluded the text. ‘May its glorious message shine through the ages.’ The emperor might then have turned homeward. But he was drawn to the sea as the route to the islands that were the supposed source of the immortality drugs promised by his entourage of Daoist mystics. He had sent out two expeditions, remember, and nothing had been heard of any results. So instead of going home he headed north along the 159 B E Y O N D T H E G R